I'll admit it, I can be swayed by quote recommendations from authors that I admire. I picked up Maggie O'Farrell's novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, because the jacket had quotes from Audrey Niffenegger and Carolyn Parkhurst, two authors that I love.
O'Farrell's novel centers around Iris, a vintage shop owner, who receives a call from a mental institution regarding her great-aunt Esme. The institution is closing down and Esme, a patient for over sixty years, is about to be put in a home. Iris never knew that her aunt existed and her only living relative that can shed light on the situation is her grandmother, Esme's sister, who is in a home with advanced Alzheimer's. Iris, against the advice of those around her, decides to take her aunt into her own home and tries to piece together the family secrets.
I enjoyed this book enough to forgive its frustrating narrative. The story is told through different perspectives, both through first person memories and third person. The story shifts between narration styles and characters making it occasionally confusing and it brought me out of the world of the story.
Anytime I have to pause and regroup while reading, I feel like it's a fail on the part of the author. The number one golden rule is to never have the reader pulled out of the world of the story. This happened several times. There was even a part when Iris spoke about information regarding her aunt that she could not have known, as the the information was previously revealed as part of Esme's memory, not something that she told Iris.
If O'Farrell had written a less entertaining novel, I would have had a difficult time overlooking these inconstancies. The story was throughly compelling and kept me staying up late to finish it the same day that I started reading it. It's rare that a book keeps me entertained enough skip sleep!
I felt like the mystery of Esme and the family secrets were revealed with great care to pacing and keeping in tact the element of surprise. It made the novel a real page turner.
O'Farrell's novel has a interesting theme of power, those who have it and those who lack it. In many ways this is feminist literature wrapped in a mystery. On a surface level, this book doesn't appear to be too deep or meaningful, but it actually has many layers and would make a good pick for a class or book group. As I was reading it, I felt uneasy and a bit angry on behalf of some of the characters in the book. It got to me.
The ending was entirely unsatisfactory. It felt like it ended prematurely and was rushed. I felt cheated. I had stayed the course of the book and needed more.
I feel mixed about this book. Ultimately, I would recommend it, but I feel like O'Farrell is a solid writer and that this might not be her best effort.